ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s comptroller called on Gov. Larry Hogan to speed up the pace of compensating five men who were wrongly incarcerated.
Peter Franchot highlighted the situation at Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting, noting that Maryland was recently ranked as the richest state in the country. He called on Hogan to quickly implement a plan to compensate the men within the next two weeks.
“They need to be compensated as soon as possible,” said Franchot. “They were deprived of years of freedom, opportunity and time with their family and friends and the very least we can do is compensate them in a timely and fair manner. Time is of the essences. I know the board staff is working on the governor’s proposal collaboratively, but as an equal voting member of the board, I’d like for us to agree on a path forward at our next meeting, Oct. 16.”
The five men — Jerome Johnson, Lamar Johnson, Walter Lomax, Clarence Shipley and Hubert James Williams — have petitioned the board under state law. In July, attorneys for four of the men sent a letter to the board asking for action.
“I reference the wealth of this state to indicate the contrast with these five individuals is even more stark,” said Franchot.
The exonerees spent a combined 120 years in prison.
“I think we can no longer wait or ask these five innocent wrongfully convicted Marylanders to wait any longer for a fair and compassionate payment,” he said.
Franchot’s call to action also comes at a time when he is testing the waters for a potential bid for governor. Franchot served in the legislature for 20 years representing liberal Takoma Park. Since being elected comptroller in 2006, Franchot has charted a more moderate fiscal course and sought to build a populist appeal on issues such as the expansion of the state’s craft brewing industry.
In recent months he’s attempted to bolster his liberal credentials, including a public call for the state to cease doing business with Alabama companies after that state’s governor, Kay Ivey, signed into law a measure that effectively bans all forms of abortion except in the case of a threat to the life of the mother.
Compensation for the five wrongly convicted men has become something of a cause for a number of progressive lawmakers who have sent letters to Hogan calling for an expedited payment.
Two weeks ago, Hogan said he planned to refer the issue to the Office of Administrative Hearings and develop a process for determining compensation. Franchot did not mention Hogan in his comments.
The governor, who recently returned from a trip to Australia, did not attend the meeting and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford chaired it in his place. The third member of the board is Treasurer Nancy Kopp.
Rutherford said a memoranda to resolve the compensation issue “is floating around” and that the governor’s office is not holding the process up.
Rutherford said that memo “is pretty much ready to go and I would think in a short period of time they can get this issue resolved.”
In the meantime, the state is working to help get one of the men into a substance abuse treatment program, according to Rutherford.
The state has provided similar compensation in the past on a per diem basis. A payment based on compensation provided 15 years ago would approach $75,000 per year per person in today’s dollars, an amount that includes inflation since 2004.
“It is my hope that by next week members will have the final details of what the governor’s plan will look like and we’ll have an opportunity to carefully review it,” Franchot said.